To The Friends, A Quaker Popeye Is Quite Offensive

Posted: April 25, 1990

The runty, raspy-voiced cartoon swab with the bulging forearms and the flashing fists has run into gentle but determined opposition from the spiritual kin of William Penn.

If members of the Religious Society of Friends - the Quakers - have their way, Popeye the Sailor will become Popeye the Pacifist.

Popeye, who once used spinach to turn himself from weakling to superhero, last year went to work for Quaker Oats Co., pitching the firm's instant oatmeal.

In cartoon strips packaged with boxes of Instant Quaker Oatmeal, Popeye proclaims himself, "Popeye the Quaker Man." Last winter, he identified

himself the same way in television ads touting the instant oatmeal.

Although he uses the term Quaker man, Popeye still punches his way out of trouble, and that greatly disturbs the real Quakers, who believe in nonviolence.

"If Popeye is to be portrayed as a Quaker man, then he must behave as a Quaker man, and Quaker men do not go about resolving dispute and conflict by means of violence," said Elizabeth Foley, development and media coordinator for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

Friends also are offended by the cartoon portrayal of Olive Oyl, Foley said.

"She is constantly portrayed as a passive female who stands on the sideline and cheers as Popeye commits acts of violence," Foley said. "Quaker women were responsible for beginning the suffrage movement in this country. Alice Paul, a Quaker woman from Moorestown, N.J., wrote the Equal Rights Amendment."

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the local Quaker equivalent of a diocese, has instructed its general secretary to seek a meeting with Frank Morgan, the president of Quaker Oats Co.

The Quakers want to see Quaker Oats, which has no connection with the Society of Friends, use ads in which "Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl work for the good of all," Foley said.

If representatives of the Friends meet with Morgan, they plan to show him an alternative ad, developed by children at the First Day (Sunday) School of Willistown Monthly Meeting in Chester County, that shows Popeye and Bluto cooperating to build a homeless shelter.

Caldwell said that he was "concerned that we have not had a timely response" from Morgan. "We're not seeking to discredit Quaker Oats," Caldwell said. " We're offering collaboration."

The Chicago-based company told the Quakers in early March that the television ads had completed their run and that the "Popeye the Quaker Man" reference would be deleted if the spots were used again. Similar changes will be made in the comic strips if they are used again, the company informed the Quakers.

A spokeswoman for Quaker Oats said yesterday that company officials were in the midst of planning for the next fiscal year and that no decision had been made on the future of Popeye. The company regrets any offense to the Quakers, according to the spokeswoman.

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